Why is there a four-dot ellipsis in the Star Wars opening crawl?
So, here’s a source of many sleepless nights:
Some time ago, in a galaxy not so far away, I noticed a strange four-dot ellipsis in the opening crawl of Star Wars.
Did someone mess up, and then they just went with four dots?
Or was it intentional — if so: then what’s up with that?
Here’s the classic opening sequence of Star Wars:
Then, at the end of the opening crawl, we see that mysterious four-dot ellipsis:
Why four dots?!
As a professional communicator and Swede with international clients, I always strive to improve my English.
And, you know… it’s Star Wars.
I have to know, you know?
The Four Dots in Star Wars
In a movie franchise as meticulously crafted as Star Wars, I couldn’t imagine a scenario where the creators would add a fourth dot by mistake.
And true to form: The four dot ellipsis also occurs in all the other Star Wars intros. 1The standalone prequel Star Wars — Rogue One didn’t have the classic tilted intro crawl, but it, too, starts with “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away….” and — voilà! — the four dots.
There’s one exception: the opening crawl in Star Wars — The Return of the Jedi:
The final paragraph of the opening crawl has only three dots.
Now, the four dots can’t all be typos, right? And if they aren’t — what about the three dots in The Return of the Jedi? Well, as in every other Star Wars movie, there is still a four-dot ellipsis at the very beginning of the movie:
The Classic Three-Dot Ellipsis
Before diving deeper into this mystery, let’s look at how to use the regular three-dot ellipsis. It can be used to indicate an unfinished sentence or thought:
“I was going to…”
(Note: Since the three dots are in affinity with the phrase, there shouldn’t be a space between the last word and the three-dot ellipsis.)
The three-dot ellipsis can also be used to signal that something, perhaps ominous, is about to happen:
“But the story didn’t end there…”
Some style guides suggest that these types of punctuation marks should be used with spaces in between them:
“But the story didn’t end there. . .”
However, using spaces is more of a stylistic choice, albeit not a very practical one in today’s digital age: this could result in unwanted line breaks when using today’s word processors.
Still, outside of literary uses, the three-dot ellipsis is also used in formal texts to indicate editorial omissions. 2Some people use double-spaces as formatting tools between sentences and first-line indentations, but unless you’re using a typewriter, it’s better to leave typography to the machines..
“Doctor Spin is a PR blog written and edited by Jerry Silfwer.”
With editorial omission:
“Doctor Spin is a PR blog … by Jerry Silfwer.”
The edited version still makes it a bit unclear; the only indication that the ellipsis wasn’t in the original text is that it has a space before and after. And this is why many style guides recommend using parenthesis for omissions:
“Doctor Spin is a PR blog (…) by Jerry Silfwer.”
But what if the quoted text already contains these types of omissions? Again, some style guides recommend keeping the author’s omissions with parenthesis (…) and using brackets for your omissions […].
Well, we have left regulatory terrain and entered the land of style.
Personally, whenever I use the three-dot ellipsis for omissions, I prefer using brackets for maximum clarity:
“Doctor Spin is a PR blog […] by Jerry Silfwer.”
Not too complicated, I think.
So, what about the four-dot ellipsis, then?
The Four-Dot Ellipsis Exists!
The four-dot ellipsis exists, believe it or not.
Or it sort of exists.
If you use a three-dot ellipsis (without parentheses or brackets) to remove words at the end of the sentence, it would theoretically look like this:
“Doctor Spin is a PR blog… . It was launched in 2002.”
It sort of makes sense, right? Words at the end of the sentence have been omitted, but it has to also be apparent to the reader that there’s punctuation before the following sentence.
However, in use, the space between the first three and the last dot is a problem. Because the dots represent omitted words where a space wouldn’t follow the final omitted word.
Hence, there’s no space:
“Doctor Spin is a PR blog.… It was launched in 2002.”
Four dots in a row, go figure!
Still, and this is worth mentioning again, it’s not a “four dot ellipsis” per se — it’s just a three-dot ellipsis followed by “normal” punctuation. Or vice versa.
Theoretically, you could also use brackets (or parentheses) to illustrate the exact same thing:
“Doctor Spin is a PR blog […]. It was launched in 2002.”
In my opinion, the brackets are much clearer. They make it easier for any reader to understand what’s going on.
So what about Star Wars, then?
The Star Wars Ellipsis Mystery
Suppose the four dot ellipsis in Star Wars is intentional, which it sort of has to be. In that case, those four dots represent a three-dot ellipsis either omitting the rest of the sentence or foreboding something ominous … and regular punctuation:
“A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away […].”
“A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. […]”
From an art director’s viewpoint, using parenthesis or brackets would have given each intro an unwanted touch of “academia.” So, the four-dot ellipsis intro used in all Star Wars movies is reasonable. Or, at least, not wrong.
But what about the four dot ellipsis ending the opening crawl of all regular Star Wars movies? And what about the exception of Star Wars — The Return of the Jedi?
Unlike the intro texts, all final opening crawl sentences seem to be fully completed with no omitted words. But they also seem like sentences indicating that the story now continues — which should call for a three-dot ellipsis. Or should it?
Well, you and I can’t make that decision.
It’s ultimately the creator’s prerogative.
It’s a fictitious story, and the one who made it up has the final say, period. (Pun intended.) The opening crawls could be excerpts from a Star Wars library in some Jedi temple somewhere. We cannot know for sure if those texts have continuations or not.
But what about the three-dot ellipsis in the opening crawl for Star Wars — The Return of the Jedi, then? Why is this ellipsis breaking the pattern established in the two previous instalments, A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back?
Was that a mistake, then?
The creators could argue that that particular sentence had no omitted words compared to the “original source.” And, even though it wasn’t the final Star Wars movie, it was, at least at the time, the final chapter of the original Star Wars trilogy.
Maybe nothing more had been “written down” in the fictitious world of Star Wars?
Maybe the saga’s timeline in Star Wars — The Return of the Jedi had, for lack of a better description, caught up to the “present day”?
Did Flash Gordon inspire George Lucas?
According to forums and fan sites, George Lucas, the father of the Star Wars franchise, was inspired by the opening crawl of Flash Gordon:
We can see how the creators of the Flash Gordon opening crawl use a four-dot ellipsis — even using a space between the final dot and the following three-dot ellipsis, thus indicating that the final sentence is complete but that there is more text omitted from the “original source” of the text.
Maybe the four dots in Star Wars is a discreet hat tip from George Lucas to Flash Gordon?
I suspect that the four-dot ellipsis in Star Wars is, first and foremost, an easter egg, a hat-tip from George Lucas to Flash Gordon for stealing the idea of using an opening crawl to set the scene.
|The standalone prequel Star Wars — Rogue One didn’t have the classic tilted intro crawl, but it, too, starts with “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away….” and — voilà! — the four dots.
|Some people use double-spaces as formatting tools between sentences and first-line indentations, but unless you’re using a typewriter, it’s better to leave typography to the machines.